Turtl Throwback Topic: Content research holds the key to grabbing (and holding) your audiences’ attention

Estimated reading time
4 minutes
25th July 2022
Author: Sabrina Stubbs
Posted in: Content Production, Customer Insights, Personalization, Psychology & Science

At Turtl, we put a lot of time, effort, and energy into exploring the psychology and science of content. We’ve made countless blog posts, newsletters, and Turtl Docs sharing the research behind effective content. So we thought now would be a good time to share our top scientific insights for engaging human audiences.  


Do you ever think about reading? Like, really think about reading? It’s one of the main things that separates us from every other species on the planet.

The human ability to turn a series of abstract symbols into complex thoughts, feelings, and emotions can be mystifying. Unsurprisingly, scientists and psychologists alike continue to explore the way our brains interpret written information.

woman reading a magazine

These studies are always uncovering new surprises, too. Most recently, the internet was blown away by ‘bionic reading’, a new way of presenting text with bold letters to increase reading speeds and provide greater accessibility to people who struggle with words.

These kinds of insights are worth their weight in gold for content creators. Knowing how people process information, what holds their attention, and what elicits certain responses. It is all essential in creating content that truly resonates on a human, cerebral, and emotional level. 

Here are three science-backed content tactics to help engage your human audience: 

Include graphics from visual theory

Did you know that every time you read a sentence, your brain takes each word and constructs a visual picture of it? Every. Single. Time. It probably even pictured itself picturing other sentences as you read that one.

We can’t help it. It turns out that humans are inherently visual creatures. It’s estimated that up to 90% of our brain power is spent on visual activity, and the human brain processes imagery 60,000 times faster than it does text. This probably goes some way to explaining why our earliest attempts at written communication took the form of pictures. 

business man admiring cave drawings, the first example of visual storytelling

Interesting, sure, but what does this mean for content creators? Primarily it means we should be spending as much time thinking about how we present information as we do about what that information is. And we should never be shy to include an image. Especially when research shows that pairing text with imagery improves comprehension by as much as 300%.  

Add interactivity from gamification science

Psychology tells us that there are two types of motivation. There’s the stuff you have to do, like tax returns and cramming for tests, which is categorized as extrinsic motivation. Then there’s the stuff you genuinely enjoy doing, which is referred to as intrinsic motivation. 

Ultimately, the goal of any content creator is to make their readers feel intrinsically motivated to read on, and there are some neat psychological tricks for pulling that off. 

Person with credit card out at laptop, ready to buy

Self Determination Theory was fully investigated by psychologists Richard Ryan and Edward Deci in 1985. It shines a light on what it takes for people to feel motivated. Game designers or experience planners use this often when the choices audiences make can have an effect (but still one they intend).

The first thing Self Determination Theory tells us is that people want to feel competent when they are reading. This means you need to create an experience that isn’t too stressful or difficult to follow, but also one that isn’t too easy. 

For instance, simply scrolling a website doesn’t require any level of competence. Something like taking a quiz, however, does. Why is this kind of interactivity so important? Because not only does it result in better engagement, but when your reader’s brain is active, it is better at retaining information. Accordingly, audiences are more likely to read and remember your content.

In fact, 45% of interactive content is rated as being “very effective” at educating the buyer, compared to just 6% of passive content. 

self-determination theory as expressed in gamification

Integrate personalization from cognitive psychology

One of the golden rules of marketing is to know your audience. Write with a single person in mind.

Luckily, that is becoming an actual possibility, as massive amounts of modern data allow us to produce communications, offers, and recommendations based on individual preferences or needs.

In fact, 80% of customers say they are more likely to buy from a company that provides tailored experiences, and personalization has been shown to lift revenues by 5-15%. But why is it so effective?

The psychology of personalization webinar banner

There are a variety of things happening in our brains when we read personalized content. But, ultimately, seeing things we believe are made especially for us has two big effects.

Firstly, seeing content tailored to our own interests and needs makes us feel much more in control on a subliminal level. Consequently, we have a more reassuring and rewarding experience. 

Secondly, we can immediately enjoy having the exact information we want, even if it’s a bit of an illusion. It’s more appealing than having to sift through extraneous content to find the bit that’s relevant for us. This helps avoid information overload, and again creates a more pleasant reading experience. 

The Turtl Takeaway: Research and you

Knowing how your audience responds to certain stimuli is going to contribute greatly to the content you create. But that’s only half the battle. Consider the way you choose to communicate your ideas. Actually, there’s a psychology behind that too! 

woman scrolling through content research

Brand voices can be categorized roughly into four psychological profiles: The Rebel (think Ben and Jerry’s), The Expert (like Microsoft), The Empath (such as Reachdesk), and The Visionary (Apple, being the most notable example).

These profiles will dictate the way you speak to your audience, and in turn, how your audience perceives you. Huge brands spend a lot of time and money developing their tone of voice. Meanwhile, for your business, it might not even be a conscious choice. Instead, tone of voice could come from your writer’s personality and internal company culture psychology. 

Want to know what your content personality type is? Take our short quiz to find out ⤵

banner for our personality quiz based on content research

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